Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest Books

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katnok
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Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest Books

Post by katnok »

Can you guys please suggest a few good books to improve my English language skills?

Though my education was in English for the most part, my native language isn't. So, I spoke exclusively in my native language until about 18-20 yrs of age (I'm 37 now). I can communicate reasonably well both in writing and speaking, but I would like to work on areas such as writing style, expressions, phrases, vocabulary etc. There are quite a few websites that help with my areas of interest/weakness, but I like having all the information structured (in a book format) and organised.
Also, please suggest some books on English grammar.

Thank you in advance.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Epsilon Delta »

In my opinion:

Your writing is sufficiently good that you won't improve from simply studying style or grammar books. English usage is not prescriptive and there is wide variety of correct grammar. Your reading time is best spent reading as widely as you can.

This includes classics like Austen and Hemingway, and contemporary magazines such as the New Yorker and The Atlantic. But those are all "high brow" so you should also read material like People magazine, mass market thrillers, business books. Some people think these mangle the language horribly, but they still manage to communicate with the target audience.

The only time it make sense to memorize a style book is if you're writing for an organization that has a house style.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by bengal22 »

Elements of Style by Struck and White was recommend in the early 80's and it is still excellent.

Read some John Steinbeck as well for some examples of great writing.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Caduceus »

I have learned many languages, some using the "old-school" approach (Greek, Latin), and others with teachers who insisted on a more "natural" style of learning (German, Italian, French, etc.) The last thing I would do is systematically work through a book on grammar. You can pick up grammar in a piecemeal fashion and build on your knowledge slowly over time, but there's no need to work through it like you were memorizing a sequence of rules. I don't think that's likely to be effective.

Assuming that you want to improve your general English skills and your "feel" for the language, I recommend reading good fiction writers in genres that you enjoy. Enjoyment is key. I would spend a weekend in an actual bookstore and just browse the shelves. Read a paragraph or two from random books. What kind of books do you like? Fantasy? Crime thrillers? Mysteries? Romantic novels? Read a little in bed before you go to sleep.

There are some masters of the language. A.S. Byatt. Neil Gaiman. Donna Tartt, etc.

This is the kind of investment that won't see quick returns. But the more you read, the more of a feel you will get for the nuances of the English language.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by VictoriaF »

I recommend reading Man Booker Prize winners; some of them have exquisite language. From the writing quality perspective, my favorite is Possession by A.S. Byatt.

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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Dude2 »

bengal22 wrote:Read some John Steinbeck as well for some examples of great writing.
Yes, do this, or perhaps better Ernest Hemingway who is famous for writing in short, choppy sentences (because he was trained as a journalist).
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by VictoriaF »

Caduceus wrote:There are some masters of the language. A.S. Byatt. Neil Gaiman. Donna Tartt, etc.
I did not see your comment until after I have posted mine. I am happy that you are also recommending A.S. Byatt!

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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by katnok »

Thank you for all the great suggestions!

Epsilon delta - I love to read, and in fact, my English is as good as it is, mostly because of reading (read quite a few books by Sidney Sheldon while in college). The reason, why I also wanted a grammar book is there are times when I have to think about rules before I say or write something. So, I would like work on those areas.

Bengal22 - I am going to order Elements of Style

Caduceus- You are right that I want to improve general English skills. I like thrillers/mysteries. Any suggestions?
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by spth »

I'm currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo on iBooks (free). It's an easy read, great thriller/mystery. It's the first book I've read on an iPad and I love that I can touch a word and get an instant definition and origin.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Epsilon Delta »

There are at least three types of books that cover the subject matter.

1. Text books that you are supposed to work through more or less in their entirety. These usually claim to be comprehensive.
2. Reference books for looking up particular problems as they come up. These usually aim to be comprehensive.
3. General discussions about writing that cover particular topics at the whim of the author.

I don't find text books to be useful once you've reached a minimal standard. If you just follow the text books rules you will usually sound like a non-native speaker.

Reference books such as Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Partridge's Usage & Abusage and various other style guides can be useful. Just don't treat them as text books and try to read cover to cover. We now have the Internet so all reference books are less useful than before, but skimming then an reading articles of interest functions much like the third class.

General discussion books such as Eats, Shoots and Leaves or the collections of William Safire's On Language columns are interesting. Not only because of the subject matter, but because they are well written and serve as example of styles that can be used. Safire's gradual shift from prescription to description is also interesting.

Finally I'll remind you that most complaints about "grammar" are really about class, professional or geographical distinctions. Complaints about "bad grammar" really mean "you're not one of us." So think about why you're trying to change the way you write. Partridge and Fowler are rather old British books with rather old British usage, rather than contemporary American usage. However generally British English is a prestigious dialect so if you can use it without looking "affected" (and as an Indian you probably can) that's not much of a problem. People may claim Fowler is old fashioned, but his usage is generally clear and few people will claim he is wrong.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Alex Frakt »

katnok wrote:Epsilon delta - I love to read, and in fact, my English is as good as it is, mostly because of reading (read quite a few books by Sidney Sheldon while in college). The reason, why I also wanted a grammar book is there are times when I have to think about rules before I say or write something. So, I would like work on those areas.
I really enjoyed the columns and blog posts of Bill Walsh, the Washington Post copy editor, at http://www.theslot.com/. He's mostly shifted to Twitter, but there are plenty of usage nuggets to be found digging around that site. He has also written three books on English usage, which I suspect are just what you are looking for, see http://www.amazon.com/Bill-Walsh/e/B001 ... ads.org-20
katnok wrote:Caduceus- You are right that I want to improve general English skills. I like thrillers/mysteries. Any suggestions?
Who do you like to read in your native language?
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by dolphinsaremammals »

Caduceus wrote:I have learned many languages, some using the "old-school" approach (Greek, Latin), and others with teachers who insisted on a more "natural" style of learning (German, Italian, French, etc.) The last thing I would do is systematically work through a book on grammar. You can pick up grammar in a piecemeal fashion and build on your knowledge slowly over time, but there's no need to work through it like you were memorizing a sequence of rules. I don't think that's likely to be effective.
Learning rules first is the only way I can learn a foreign language. Being thrown into the pool of conversational whatever with no background is totally useless to me.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Girino »

I would recommend "Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace," over Strunk and White. I use it to teach first year college students how to write more clearly. It is not a grammar book. Rather than prescribing rules, it shows how sentences work by concentrating on what readers expect. For example, readers expect to see a subject early in a sentence followed closely by a verb. It shows how to link sentences together to they "cohere" or flow. It shows how to write concisely. Finally, it demonstrates what make some structures not only clear, but graceful and elegant. I have had several students thank me for using the book, since the principles apply to all kinds of writing.

And I agree that reading widely will always serve you well. Good luck!
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by jhfenton »

Dude2 wrote:
bengal22 wrote:Read some John Steinbeck as well for some examples of great writing.
Yes, do this, or perhaps better Ernest Hemingway who is famous for writing in short, choppy sentences (because he was trained as a journalist).
Ugh. That's why I never liked Hemingway. Dull. Lifeless. :beer Give me some Faulkner.
dolphinsaremammals wrote:
Caduceus wrote:I have learned many languages, some using the "old-school" approach (Greek, Latin), and others with teachers who insisted on a more "natural" style of learning (German, Italian, French, etc.) The last thing I would do is systematically work through a book on grammar. You can pick up grammar in a piecemeal fashion and build on your knowledge slowly over time, but there's no need to work through it like you were memorizing a sequence of rules. I don't think that's likely to be effective.
Learning rules first is the only way I can learn a foreign language. Being thrown into the pool of conversational whatever with no background is totally useless to me.
Me too. I've studied five languages other than my native English, and I could never pick up grammar in a piecemeal fashion. I tried learning Chinese piecemeal via Rosetta Stone, but it wasn't until I took two community college classes that it clicked enough where Rosetta became useful to study vocabulary.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by blueblock »

When I was doing my MA in English Lit, my favorite seminar was the History of English. I would highly recommend the textbook for that course. It's dense but full of illuminating detail.

One of the reasons that English has become a world language is its ability to absorb other languages almost effortlessly. Many of our words are French in origin, and spelled accordingly, thanks to French being the "language of diplomacy" in the 19th Century. Some words are originally Chinese, like 'tycoon' and 'shampoo'. The list goes on and on.

In addition to the fact that it's just darned interesting, you'll come a way a better speller, because by understanding word origins, our weird spelling conventions make a whole lot more sense. (The stranger spellings usually are for words that originated in Old and Middle English.)

http://www.amazon.com/History-English-L ... of+english
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by FredL »

It depends on your goal. The approach will be different, such as If you want to be writer or just to be used in commercials, office correspondent etc. If your goal is not writer, you don't really need spend too much time on the details of the grammar. English is my second language. IMHO you don't really need any grammar book. You don't need structured learning. There are tons of places on the internet including English language web sites, forums and language exchanges. The best way is to ask questions. I have asked what is the different among FAST, QUICK, and RAPID, my different American friends gave me different answers. In fact, English is changing as all other languages. The English was different in 1970s from today before President Reagan ordered to change government English. Reagan said the government English was too complex, most American don't understand. We are using active voice now, but before then, a lot of passive voice were used. Many government documents involve law, therefore, a lot of legal jargon were used. The English of American newspapers and magazines are simpler tofsy from 50 years ago. "Different from" is the standard English, but since a lot of people are using "different than," some grammar books say "different than" is acceptable. To me preposition and article is the most difficult part of the English. For example, The Wall Street Journal, but New York Time, why? When people lined up to buy something, if you see someone is not exactly stand at the end of line you may ask "are you in the line?" But my English teacher told me, in some part of the US, people say "are you on the line." My teacher was from that region. I also believe when today's young people become President, Congressmen, CEO etc, they may prefer texting, short message English which many older people don't understand.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by dolphinsaremammals »

FredL wrote: I also believe when today's young people become President, Congressmen, CEO etc, they may prefer texting, short message English which many older people don't understand.
I really look forward to a President who speaks Bingo. Not.

Let us contrast "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" against "We ="
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Post by traineeinvestor »

I would recommend Stephen Pinker's "A Sense of Style" over Stunk & White.

I also agree with the recommendations to read a wide range of novels good authors; Neil Gaiman, Philip Roth, Jane Austen, Hemingway etc. but would also suggest some good non-fiction writers as well: Niall Fergusson, Robert Masse, Bill Bryson are all excellent writers.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by bengal22 »

dolphinsaremammals wrote:
FredL wrote: I also believe when today's young people become President, Congressmen, CEO etc, they may prefer texting, short message English which many older people don't understand.
I really look forward to a President who speaks Bingo. Not.

Let us contrast "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" against "We ="
Every generation has worried about the death of the English language and the ability to write well. But yet there are probably more published words now than there ever has been. We still have great writers like Richard Ford, Thomas Pynchon, Jonathan Franzen, Richard Russo, etc.

And I know that "Elements of Style" worked well for me and is an excellent go-to book on writing.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Duckie »

katnok wrote:I like thrillers/mysteries. Any suggestions?
Start with the classics, books by:
  • Dashiell Hammett
    Agatha Christie
    Rex Stout
    Raymond Chandler
    Dorothy L. Sayers
    Ellery Queen
    Robert B. Parker
These authors not only write very good mystery stories, they are also throughly grounded in the english language with proper construction and grammar.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Fallible »

katnok wrote:Can you guys please suggest a few good books to improve my English language skills? ...
You already are doing quite well and with some of the best books and writers already mentioned here, I can add only that when you have begun to master the language, you will develop your own writing style. You may not be aware of it for some time, but it will be there and you may find yourself able to take liberties with a few style rules. Just remember that the English language lends itself beautifullly to simplicity, as Will Strunk knew well:

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell."
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by FredL »

English is changing in accelerated speed. The white people in US will become largest minority in 30 years. The next one is Latinos followed by African American. Even though African American is English native speaker, but its English is not exactly the same as the White American, so does the English in the south with those in the north or other regions. There are more than 10 different minority languages in the US. Because large number of interracial marriages, the current English will be further diluted. If you read Mark Twain's books you will notice it is somewhat different from the English we use today. Fictions in the past are for entertainment and non-fiction is for learning. Today, we have so many different entertainments and learning tools, people in the next generations probably will not read books as the way people read today. The English of classics will probably not in fashion anymore in 30 years. Instead of literatures, the main functions of any language in the future will be communications. If googling "death of English," you will find several articles talk about this. Here is one of them from Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/technology-text ... lish-87727. Like it or not, nobody can and able to change the trend. American English is based on American culture. If English is to become global language in the future, it has to be understood by the people from many different cultures. IMHO, the current form of English will not survive in the future.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by dolphinsaremammals »

FredL wrote:English is changing in accelerated speed. The white people in US will become largest minority in 30 years. The next one is Latinos followed by African American. Even though African American is English native speaker, but its English is not exactly the same as the White American, so does the English in the south with those in the north or other regions. There are more than 10 different minority languages in the US. Because large number of interracial marriages, the current English will be further diluted. If you read Mark Twain's books you will notice it is somewhat different from the English we use today. Fictions in the past are for entertainment and non-fiction is for learning. Today, we have so many different entertainments and learning tools, people in the next generations probably will not read books as the way people read today. The English of classics will probably not in fashion anymore in 30 years. Instead of literatures, the main functions of any language in the future will be communications. If googling "death of English," you will find several articles talk about this. Here is one of them from Newsweek: http://www.newsweek.com/technology-text ... lish-87727. Like it or not, nobody can and able to change the trend. American English is based on American culture. If English is to become global language in the future, it has to be understood by the people from many different cultures. IMHO, the current form of English will not survive in the future.
Actually, English has changed dramatically over the centuries already. That doesn't mean that a well-educated person ignores current spelling and grammar; to do so makes them seem ignorant.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Alex Frakt »

dolphinsaremammals wrote:Actually, English has changed dramatically over the centuries already. That doesn't mean that a well-educated person ignores current spelling and grammar; to do so makes them seem ignorant.
Well call me ignorant, but I refuse to abide by a select few of the spelling changes that Noah Webster managed to force into what passes for standard American English. You are welcome to traveler and judgment, I'm sticking with the original, and UK standard, traveller and judgement.
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Post by Epsilon Delta »

Alex Frakt wrote:
dolphinsaremammals wrote:Actually, English has changed dramatically over the centuries already. That doesn't mean that a well-educated person ignores current spelling and grammar; to do so makes them seem ignorant.
Well call me ignorant, but I refuse to abide by a select few of the spelling changes that Noah Webster managed to force into what passes for standard American English. You are welcome to traveler and judgment, I'm sticking with the original, and UK standard, traveller and judgement.
Apparently Mr. Webster's influence was not only transatlantic but prenatal.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?c ... nt%3B%2Cc0

British spelling has been at least as flighty as American spelling.
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Post by Alex Frakt »

Epsilon Delta wrote:
Alex Frakt wrote:
dolphinsaremammals wrote:Actually, English has changed dramatically over the centuries already. That doesn't mean that a well-educated person ignores current spelling and grammar; to do so makes them seem ignorant.
Well call me ignorant, but I refuse to abide by a select few of the spelling changes that Noah Webster managed to force into what passes for standard American English. You are welcome to traveler and judgment, I'm sticking with the original, and UK standard, traveller and judgement.
Apparently Mr. Webster's influence was not only transatlantic but prenatal.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?c ... nt%3B%2Cc0

British spelling has been at least as flighty as American spelling.
Apparently for judgement/judgment, but traveler/traveller is as expected.

Neat tool, BTW. Here's color vs. colour, one of Webster's more successful innovations.
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Post by dolphinsaremammals »

I was actually thinking Norse and the Norman invasion, etc., not a johnny-come-lately like Noah Webster.
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Post by Epsilon Delta »

There's a lot of interesting stuff in Google's ngrams.

One of my favorites is that numbers are getting bigger:

thousand,million,billion

You get similar results in other languages; and it even shows up in English with the Indian lahk and crore.

I've earlier mentioned that grammar and dialects are more about establishing in groups and out groups than about being correct. Noah Webster was not a lexicographer interested in spelling, but a political activist interested in creating America.

Combining the above themes you can search for billion, milliard, thousand million and related terms in British English, German and French. There's a lexical fight over whether the British don't want to be French more than they don't want to be American, and over an EU national identity. There's a lot of outright lies put about to establish myths of identity.

To bring it back to the OPs question. Style books are political documents. Choose wisely, you could find yourself taking sides in a war you didn't know existed -- A literal language war, with armed forces crossing boarders.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Fallible »

Epsilon Delta wrote: ...
To bring it back to the OPs question. Style books are political documents. Choose wisely, you could find yourself taking sides in a war you didn't know existed -- A literal language war, with armed forces crossing boarders.
I don't doubt the political, but how can the OP avoid " taking sides" and how would Elements of Style be political, or for that matter any of the other manuals recommended here?
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by VictoriaF »

Epsilon Delta wrote:Style books are political documents. Choose wisely, you could find yourself taking sides in a war you didn't know existed -- A literal language war, with armed forces crossing boarders.
I am confused. English is not my native language and I have always been striving to improve it. For me, there is good English and bad English. Examples of good English are BBC, PBS (not all programs), The Economist, good books (I particularly favor English authors). I don't understand how politics fit in, because I have seen people from all parts of the political spectrum speaking well and speaking poorly.

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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by dolphinsaremammals »

VictoriaF wrote:
Epsilon Delta wrote:Style books are political documents. Choose wisely, you could find yourself taking sides in a war you didn't know existed -- A literal language war, with armed forces crossing boarders.
I am confused. English is not my native language and I have always been striving to improve it. For me, there is good English and bad English. Examples of good English are BBC, PBS (not all programs), The Economist, good books (I particularly favor English authors). I don't understand how politics fit in, because I have seen people from all parts of the political spectrum speaking well and speaking poorly.

Victoria
An example is the War Between the States vs. the Civil War. Or pro-choice vs. pro-life.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Fallible »

dolphinsaremammals wrote:
VictoriaF wrote:
Epsilon Delta wrote:Style books are political documents. Choose wisely, you could find yourself taking sides in a war you didn't know existed -- A literal language war, with armed forces crossing boarders.
I am confused. English is not my native language and I have always been striving to improve it. For me, there is good English and bad English. Examples of good English are BBC, PBS (not all programs), The Economist, good books (I particularly favor English authors). I don't understand how politics fit in, because I have seen people from all parts of the political spectrum speaking well and speaking poorly.

Victoria
An example is the War Between the States vs. the Civil War. Or pro-choice vs. pro-life.
Good examples. There's also Orwell's great essay, "Politics and the English Language."

But I still don't understand how the style books suggested here, The Elements of Style in particular, are political; knowing might help the OP make good choices.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by cherijoh »

katnok wrote:Thank you for all the great suggestions!

Epsilon delta - I love to read, and in fact, my English is as good as it is, mostly because of reading (read quite a few books by Sidney Sheldon while in college). The reason, why I also wanted a grammar book is there are times when I have to think about rules before I say or write something. So, I would like work on those areas.

Bengal22 - I am going to order Elements of Style

Caduceus- You are right that I want to improve general English skills. I like thrillers/mysteries. Any suggestions?
A good online reference that I use for an ESL program I coordinate is stickball.net. They have some excellent worksheets on grammar. I also recommend Voice of America.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Epsilon Delta »

Fallible wrote:
But I still don't understand how the style books suggested here, The Elements of Style in particular, are political; knowing might help the OP make good choices.
When I say political I don't mean just party political or nation state politics. We also have office politics and identity politics of various sorts. I've seen knock down fights over serial commas.

But some examples that are clearly political: Any style guide either has a section on sexist language, or it does not. Any style guide has recommendations on the nickname of the Washington NFL team, or it does not. Either way will tick somebody off and they will perceive it as political. If the author is highly skilled he can tick everybody off.

More generally read about linguistic prescription.

Most of the things that style guides discuss are not sporadic errors, everybody makes the odd slip and usually corrects it when it's noticed. The majority of the discussion in style guides is about usages that are systematically and consistently used by large numbers of people. By saying these usages are wrong they are insulting these group.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Towsonite »

Check out Bryan Garner's book, "Garner's Modern American Usage". I took a writing course with him years ago and truly believe my writing improved more in those 8 hours than it had in the prior 8 years. I have not read this book but have read several Garner books written for lawyers. Bryan stresses simplifying your writing as much as possible and gives plenty of practical tips on how to do so. Here is the Amazon link:

http://www.amazon.com/Garners-Modern-Am ... =pd_cp_b_0

There is a "Look Inside" for this book, so you can actually read some of it before buying. You can also subscribe to his e-mails through his website.
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VictoriaF
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by VictoriaF »

As we are on the topic of the English language, I am curious what's behind using they/them/their when the gender of a person is known from the context. I frequently see statements such as, for example, "I've met this girl and I liked their smile." This phrasing is common among recent graduates, seldom among older graduates, and never in good literature.

Victoria
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by bengal22 »

VictoriaF wrote:As we are on the topic of the English language, I am curious what's behind using they/them/their when the gender of a person is known from the context. I frequently see statements such as, for example, "I've met this girl and I liked their smile." This phrasing is common among recent graduates, seldom among older graduates, and never in good literature.

Victoria
was her name Lola?
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by VictoriaF »

bengal22 wrote:
VictoriaF wrote:As we are on the topic of the English language, I am curious what's behind using they/them/their when the gender of a person is known from the context. I frequently see statements such as, for example, "I've met this girl and I liked their smile." This phrasing is common among recent graduates, seldom among older graduates, and never in good literature.

Victoria
was her name Lola?
If we are thinking of the same Lola "they" could be appropriate. I was asking about other Lolas and all non-Lolas.

Victoria
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Duckie »

VictoriaF wrote:As we are on the topic of the English language, I am curious what's behind using they/them/their when the gender of a person is known from the context. I frequently see statements such as, for example, "I've met this girl and I liked their smile." This phrasing is common among recent graduates, seldom among older graduates, and never in good literature.
In the old days, pre 1970s, if you knew the gender you used the appropriate term of his for a male or hers for a female. If you didn't know the gender you defaulted to the male term of his. That got changed in the 70s to become his or hers to cover both possibilities. Over time, especially when speaking, that got shortened to their. It's incorrect even when you don't know the gender. It's especially silly when you do.

Aside from political correctness the main problem is we don't have those old lady school teachers anymore who knew the correct grammar. Nowadays even good magazine and newspaper editors let all sorts of errors pass. My late mother was an english teacher and she would be having a fit.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by gkaplan »

VictoriaF wrote:As we are on the topic of the English language, I am curious what's behind using they/them/their when the gender of a person is known from the context. I frequently see statements such as, for example, "I've met this girl and I liked their smile." This phrasing is common among recent graduates, seldom among older graduates, and never in good literature.

Victoria
I frequently see improper antecedent use but never this egregious.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Epsilon Delta »

There is precidense for pronouns to shift number. Once upon a time we used thou, but the general consensus among English speakers was that having constructs that mostly severed to belittle others was not ideal. Same thing is happening here. The perscriptionist have not got a leg to stand on. The change does not affect clarity, or nuance or any of the other things they claim as the reason to reject change. They simply want to bulster a world view that is, thankfully, dieing.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Towsonite »

I'm assuming that these younger people just learned to avoid using supposedly sexist speech at any cost. So, get used to girls and "their smile", because these kids would be thoroughly beaten over the head if they wrote "the new doctor must have his license" on accident.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by VictoriaF »

Towsonite wrote:I'm assuming that these younger people just learned to avoid using supposedly sexist speech at any cost. So, get used to girls and "their smile", because these kids would be thoroughly beaten over the head if they wrote "the new doctor must have his license" on accident.
You are probably right, but it creates an ugly language. And this takes us back to the theme of many responses: One acquires good language from reading good literature.

Victoria
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by walkabout »

This is a good forum for asking/answering English usage questions:

http://english.stackexchange.com/
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by takethree »

blueblock wrote:When I was doing my MA in English Lit, my favorite seminar was the History of English. I would highly recommend the textbook for that course. It's dense but full of illuminating detail.

One of the reasons that English has become a world language is its ability to absorb other languages almost effortlessly. Many of our words are French in origin, and spelled accordingly, thanks to French being the "language of diplomacy" in the 19th Century. Some words are originally Chinese, like 'tycoon' and 'shampoo'. The list goes on and on.


There's also a charming 9-part miniseries, The Story of English, narrated by Robert McNeil. Part 1: https://youtu.be/Mj9jJiPwsp0
Last edited by takethree on Sun Mar 29, 2015 4:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by takethree »

I teach composition at a university with many brilliant students who speak English as a second language. My advice to them is the same as my advice to native speakers, when they ask how to improve their writing style: Read more long-form journalism and essays, read each piece slowly and at least twice, and read it aloud to yourself. I can't overemphasize this last step; when you hear the sentences leave your mouth and resonate in your ears, you will understand both the content and form on a deeper level. (Of course, this isn't an option in many environments. Nevertheless, feel no shame in moving your lips while reading! 8-) )

We're so used to skimming, especially with on-screen reading, that forcing yourself to slow down will be disorienting at first, but illuminating in the long run.

Suggestions: The New Yorker; The New York Review of Books; Harpers; The Weekly Standard, The New Criterion, or Commentary (on the right); The Nation, Jacobin, or Dissent (on the left); Dædalus (if you have library access); n+1; long pieces in NYT, WSJ, or Guardian. The Best American Essays anthologies are handy compilations, as well. W.W. Norton's anthologies of essays have something for everyone: http://books.wwnorton.com/books/coursel ... x?tid=1454. For literature, the W.W. Norton Seagull anthologies (fiction, poetry, drama) are excellent books for academic and non-academic contexts (http://books.wwnorton.com/books/coursel ... x?tid=1338).
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Alex Frakt »

takethree wrote:I teach composition at a university with many brilliant students who speak English as a second language. My advice to them is the same as my advice to native speakers, when they ask how to improve their writing style: Read more long-form journalism and essay...
A one-stop source for such writing is http://www.aldaily.com/ - The Chronicle of Higher Education's "Arts and Letters Daily".
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Epsilon Delta »

VictoriaF wrote:
Towsonite wrote:I'm assuming that these younger people just learned to avoid using supposedly sexist speech at any cost. So, get used to girls and "their smile", because these kids would be thoroughly beaten over the head if they wrote "the new doctor must have his license" on accident.
You are probably right, but it creates an ugly language. And this takes us back to the theme of many responses: One acquires good language from reading good literature.

Victoria
You need to extend your search for literature. Or perhaps read more closely.
King James Bible, Deuteronomy 17:5 wrote:Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.
A Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene 3 wrote:There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend
Jane Austen in Emma wrote: "Who is in love with her? Who makes you their confidant?"
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by Alex Frakt »

Please keep (get this back) on track. This is not the thread to argue points of grammar or tilt at usage windmills.
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Re: Improving English Language Proficiency- Please suggest B

Post by katnok »

OP here.

Thank you all for the great suggestions!

I have already purchased a few books based on initial recommendations, but will definitely look at other resources you guys suggested.
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